Britain says China calls off human rights talks at last minute

LONDON Mon Apr 14, 2014 1:30pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - China has called off talks with Britain on Beijing's human rights record, the British government said on Monday, four days after Britain published a list of concerns.

Chinese and British officials had been due to hold a round of the bilateral Human Rights Dialogue in London on Wednesday after they agreed to restart the regular meetings during a trip to China by British Prime Minister David Cameron in December.

Cameron's visit was aimed at spurring closer trade and business links between Britain and the world's second biggest economy and at drawing a line under a dispute involving Tibet's spiritual leader which had led to a diplomatic freeze.

But Britain's Foreign Office said Beijing had pulled out of the first round of the talks, the resumption of which Cameron had hailed at the time as a significant achievement.

"We are disappointed that the Chinese government last week unilaterally postponed the Dialogue, which was due to take place on 16 April," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said in a statement.

"It is not for us to say why it was postponed. We are now in discussion to agree new dates," she said.

A spokeswoman at the Chinese embassy in London said she was unaware the talks had been canceled.

Britain listed China as "a country of concern" in its annual human rights report last week, saying it had observed increased restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly in 2013.

It also cited reports of "the forcible suppression of ethnic unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang."

(This story was refiled to clarify that visit to China was by Cameron)

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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